Researchers took data from more than 2,300 surveys conducted between 1970 to 2018 to estimate the proportion of people exposed to long working hours in different countries, and combined this with meta analyses showing the relative risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
The total number of deaths attributable to longer working hours were then calculated using the WHO Global Health Estimates data, which recorded causes of death among the global population between 2000 and 2016.
Deaths related to longer working hours usually occurred later in life, sometimes decades after people had retired, researchers said.
Nearly three quarters of people who died were men who were middle-aged and older. People living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific, a region that includes China, Japan and Australia, were the most at risk of dying from heart disease and stroke associated with working long hours, researchers said.
“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said in a statement. “In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.”
A World Health Organization panel has authorized the emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm.
The vaccine was developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned drugmaker, alongside the Beijing Institute of Biological Products.
“This expands the list of Covid-19 vaccines that Covax can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine,” WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing, according to The Washington Post.
This is the first time that any Chinese-made vaccine has been granted emergency authorization by WHO.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
China on Wednesday accused the US of “political manipulation” as Beijing faces criticism over a World Health Organization report on the origins of COVID-19.
“We have repeatedly emphasized that origin tracing is a scientific issue, and it should be carried out cooperatively by global scientists and cannot be politicized, which is also the consensus of most countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said during a briefing, per CNN.
“The politicization of origin tracing is extremely immoral and unpopular, which only hinders global cooperation and [the] global fight against the virus,” Hua said, accusing countries like the US of disrespecting science and “political manipulation.”
After the release of the WHO report, the US and 13 other governments issued a joint statement expressing concerns regarding lack of “access to complete, original data and samples.”
“It is critical for independent experts to have full access to all pertinent human, animal, and environmental data, research, and personnel involved in the early stages of the outbreak relevant to determining how this pandemic emerged,” the statement said. “With all data in hand, the international community may independently assess COVID-19 origins, learn valuable lessons from this pandemic, and prevent future devastating consequences from outbreaks of disease.”
The WHO report, released on Tuesday, listed the possible origins of COVID-19. It said the virus likely jumped from bats to humans via another animal. At a press conference on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he does “not believe that this assessment was extensive enough.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki discussed the report at Tuesday’s press briefing, saying that President Joe Biden “believes the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors – all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones – all deserve greater transparency.”
“They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that,” Psaki added. “The report lacks crucial data, information, and access. It represents a partial and incomplete picture.”
China has frequently been criticized by the US and its allies over a lack of transparency surrounding COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, China. Along these lines, then-President Donald Trump accused the WHO of being too subservient to Beijing and announced he was pulling the US from the UN health agency. But in one of his first executive orders as president, Biden reversed Trump’s move to withdraw from the WHO.
As wealthier nations speed up their COVID-19 vaccine rollout, poorer countries are being left behind.
Rich nations, on average, vaccinated one person every second throughout January and February, while the majority of the poorest nations are yet to give a single dose, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
Developing countries also face “critical shortages” of oxygen and medical supplies to cope with COVID-19 cases, the Alliance, a coalition of campaigning organizations including Oxfam, the International Trade Union Confederation, and ActionAid, said.
Vaccine doses are going to wealthier countries
To prevent wealthier countries from snatching up vital doses of the vaccine, groups including the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the COVAX scheme in April 2020.
Countries sign up to access an equal share of successful vaccine candidates, meaning the doses are shared among richer and poorer countries.
Despite being a “phenomenal effort at international collaboration,” Covax is “seriously underfunded,” Ted Schrecker, professor of global health policy at Newcastle University Medical School, told Insider.
Covax made its first delivery to Ghana in February. Even as the doses procured through COVAX roll out to poor countries, however, the scheme will only be able to vaccinate 3% of their populations by mid-year, and “at best” 20% by the end of 2021, the Alliance said.
As of 4 March, at least 47 of the world’s 79 lowest-income countries hadn’t vaccinated any of their population, according to the Alliance.
In comparison, President Joe Biden said the US would have enough vaccines for every adult in America by the end of May.
Throughout the pandemic, groups including the People’s Vaccine Alliance have been raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism.” This is when richer countries hoard vaccines, while poorer countries are left scrambling to get their own stocks.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, said in February rich countries with only 16% of the world’s population had purchased 60% of available vaccine supplies.
Suspending patents would speed up production
Vaccines doses need to be produced in different areas, priced affordably, allocated globally, and widely deployed for free in local communities, the Alliance said. “Thus far, the world is failing on all four fronts,” it concluded.
The Alliance added that vaccine producers across the world would be ready to produce COVID-19 vaccines if the pharmaceutical companies with authorized vaccines shared their technology and expertise.
A modern factory should be able to start producing vaccines within four months if given the blueprint and technical advice, Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, said.
Gabriela Bucher, executive director at Oxfam International, said: “By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line.”
Wealthier countries could be motivated to ensure all countries have access to a vaccine because of herd immunity beliefs, however.
“In order to control the virus, we need worldwide herd immunity, so between 60% and 72% of the population need immunizing,” Alison Copeland, professor of human geography at Newcastle University, told Insider.
“This will hopefully be enough incentive for richer countries to help out.”
The World Health Organization has urged countries to keep inoculating citizens with AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine as it investigates reports that some people developed blood clots after getting the shot.
The agency’s Friday statement came as multiple countries paused their use of the vaccine as authorities investigate cases of blood clots found among people who were inoculated with it.
The WHO said on Friday that its investigators are also studying reports but stressed that they had not yet established a link between the vaccine and blood clots.
“WHO is very much aligned with the position that we should continue immunization until we have clarified the causal relationship,” said Mariangela Simao, the WHO’s assistant director-general, according to CNBC.
Simao’s remarks came after one person in Denmark who had clots after getting the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine died, and another person in Austria died as a result of severe coagulation disorder after receiving a shot, according to country authorities.
There is no evidence that the vaccine causes an increased risk of developing blood clots. As Insider’s Dr. Catherine Schuster-Bruce reported, the data so far suggests that the risk of clots is no greater than in the population at large, and experts say the benefits of being inoculated against COVID-19 still outweigh the risks.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency’s findings and any new recommendations would be released “immediately” upon completion. Simao said the statement was “probably” imminent.
AstraZeneca said this week there was “no evidence” that its vaccine causes increased risk of developing blood clots, CNBC reported.
The European Medicines Agency, which is also investigating blood clots’ reports, said on Wednesday there was “no indication” the vaccine had caused “thrombotic events” in people who received shots. It added that 30 cases of blood clots had been reported out of nearly 5 million vaccinated people.
One of the men, a 43-year-old navy officer, died of a suspected heart attack the day after receiving his shot, Reuters reported.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is currently authorized for use in the UK and EU. AstraZeneca has not yet applied for US Food and Drug Administration approval, but a decision is expected in coming weeks after completing phase 3 clinical trials.
In February, a WHO expert panel recommended the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s use in people aged 18 and over and where coronavirus variants are circulating.
The Italian government has been accused of misleading the World Health Organization in a self-assessment of its pandemic preparedness days before its COVID-19 outbreak, The Guardian’s Angela Giuffrida reported.
The allegation is part of a civil lawsuit filed against the government by families of coronavirus victims in Bergamo, a city in northern Italy that was heavily affected in the pandemic’s first wave last spring, according to Reuters.
Documents seen by The Guardian show that the country’s self-assessment report, filed to the WHO on February 4 last year, placed itself at “Level 5” – the maximum level of preparedness.
When a country says it’s on Level 5 of preparedness, it means its health and national-emergency operations are “tested and updated regularly,” according to the self-assessment guidelines.
However, the country had not updated its pandemic-preparedness plan since 2006, The Guardian reported. A report on Italy’s pandemic response published by the WHO said the country reviewed the plan in 2017, but it merely reconfirmed the 2006 plan, the Associated Press reported.
Top members of the Italian government, including then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, have been questioned as part of the case, according to the newspaper. He told The Guardian last October he had done everything he could to mitigate the outbreak in trying circumstances.
Insider has contacted the office of Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who was in office during Conte’s tenure, and the country’s Ministry of Health for comment.
The country is second only to the UK for the number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe.
Italy’s first reported case was on February 21, 2020 – less than two weeks after the country gave the WHO its “Level 5” assurance, according to The Guardian.
The retired army general Pier Paolo Lunelli, who has compiled an analysis of Italy’s self-assessment, said that most of the statements made in it were “groundless,” the paper reported.
“We lied to the Italian citizens claiming we were ready,” Lunelli wrote, according to The Guardian. “Worse, we tried to deceive even the WHO, the EU and the ‘provident’ European countries, declaring to have capabilities which, in the light of the facts, we did not have.”
A year into the pandemic, the origins of the coronavirus are still a mystery.
The World Health Organization sent an international team to Wuhan, China in January to investigate where the virus came from and how it was introduced into the human population. Yet the investigation yielded few definitive answers.
The experts were able to take one hypothesis off the table, however: the idea that the novel coronavirus may have accidentally leaked from a Wuhan lab. This unsubstantiated theory was pushed by some members of the Trump administration in the spring. But Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s food safety and animal disease specialist, said in a Tuesday press conference that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus into the human population.”
The WHO team will not be revisiting that hypothesis in future studies, he said, adding that the virus most likely jumped from an animal host into people – just like Ebola and SARS did.
‘It was very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place’
Working together with Chinese scientists, the WHO experts had unfettered access to key places in Wuhan over four weeks, including hospitals, laboratories, and the Huanan Seafood Market, which was linked to the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases.
Those who’d suggested the possibility of a lab leak mostly pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, since some scientists there study coronaviruses. It’s one of the highest-level biosafety labs in the world. There’s no evidence, however, that any coronavirus sample collected for study in that lab was accidentally released.
The WHO team spoke with managers and staff at the institute and other labs in the area about their safety protocols.
“Accidents do happen,” Ben Embarek said. “We have many examples in many countries in the world of past accidents.” But he added that such accidents are rare and the Wuhan institute houses a “state of the art lab and it is very unlikely that anything could escape from such a place.”
Jonna Mazet, a US epidemiologist who has worked with and trained researchers at the institute, also previously told Insider that “it’s highly unlikely this was a lab accident,”
Mazet said she helped the staff develop and implement a “very stringent safety protocol.”
In fact, the WHO team found no evidence that samples of the novel coronavirus existed in any Wuhan labs, or any other labs in the world, before the pandemic.
Shi Zhengli, a virologist at the Wuhan institute, told Scientific American in April that she personally checked and found that none of the coronavirus samples stored at the institute matched the novel coronavirus’ genome.
“That really took a load off my mind,” Shi said. “I had not slept a wink for days.”
The virus likely jumped from bats to an intermediary host, then to people
Most experts agree that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, jumped from an animal host to humans in what’s known as a spillover event.
Bats are common virus hosts: Cross-species hops from bats also led to outbreaks of Ebola and SARS. So labs around the world have analyzed genetic samples of bat coronaviruses that were circulating prior to the pandemic. One study found in February that the new coronavirus shares 96% of its genetic code with a coronavirus seen in Chinese bat populations. Then a May study revealed a closer match: A 97.1% similarity to a coronavirus called RmYN02, which was found in bats in China’s Yunnan province between May and October 2019.
According to the WHO team, it’s unlikely the virus hopped directly from bats to people, though.
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” Ben Embarek said.
Marion Koopmans, a WHO virologist, said in the press conference the team found that rabbits and ferret-badgers sold at the Huanan Seafood Market came from regions in China where bats and other animals harbor viruses similar to the new coronavirus. Both of those species are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, so have been intermediary hosts.
But the WHO experts couldn’t confirm how the new coronavirus arrived at the Huanan market. It’s possible that an infected person passed the virus to others at the market, or “it could also be through the introduction of a product,” Ben Embarek said.
“A frozen wild animal that was infected could be a potential vehicle of the virus into market environments,” he added.
Still, the cases linked to the Huanan market were not the first in China.
The virus wasn’t engineered in a lab, either
A conspiracy theory similar to the lab-leak idea is that the new coronavirus was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory. A group of Chinese virologists with ties to former Trump strategist Steve Bannon suggested in September that Chinese scientists engineered the virus using existing bat coronaviruses as a “backbone” or “template.”
One of those virologists, Li-Meng Yan, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the virus was “man-made” and “intentionally” released by the Chinese government.
But that theory “has already been refuted by the scientific community around the world,” Liang Wannian, a member of China’s National Health Commission who assisted with the WHO investigation, said at the press conference.
A March study published in the journal Nature concluded based on genetic analysis that the new coronavirus wasn’t a hodgepodge of existing coronaviruses. The authors found it could not be a “laboratory construct” or “purposefully manipulated virus.”
“The genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone,” they said.
A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, which reports to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to COVID-19.
“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” they wrote in a new report.
The group also promised to issue new guidance to fix the world’s “global pandemic alert system,” which it called “not fit for purpose,” in another report coming in May.
A group of world leaders tasked with leading a postmortem on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic has issued a rebuke to China’s early handling of the outbreak. The group is promising to follow up with a laundry list of new recommendations on where the world went wrong in responding to the crisis.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a group of world leaders that collectively report to the World Health Organization, chastised the Chinese government on Monday for what it suggested was a bungled response to the emergence of COVID-19, which ultimately spiraled out of control last year.
“What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” the Independent Panel said in a new report. The panel counts among its members Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia.
China was the first country to battle the coronavirus pandemic, locking down many regions at the beginning of 2020 to control its spread. Nevertheless, the virus managed to slip beyond China’s borders.
Still, the panel noted that China isn’t the only country to have struggled in its response to the pandemic.
“Never before in modern times has the international community been called on to respond to a global health crisis of this magnitude and with such widespread consequences,” the report went on to say. “The international system’s response has been found wanting in many respects.”
The group went on to call groups of countries like those in the G7 and G8 “largely reactive” in their COVID response, as opposed to proactive in implementing successful mitigation or control protocols.
With nearly 100 million confirmed cases and more than two million recorded deaths worldwide, following the panel’s guidance could be crucial for preventing such lethal public health crises in the future.
‘The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose’
To prevent another threatening virus from overwhelming the world’s patchwork public health systems, the panel promised to review the existing preventative structures as well as shore up protocols to deal with emerging diseases.
“The global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose,” the report authors wrote. “Critical elements of the system are slow, cumbersome, and indecisive.”
The panel looked back on recommendations for handling the pandemic that the World Health Organization published throughout 2020, and identified nearly 900 individual pieces of guidance issued by the WHO or its regional offices. The flurry of constantly-evolving guidance itself could have overwhelmed people and contributed to confusion, the report noted.
“The sheer volume of recommendations issued suggests to the Panel the major risk of a lack of direction, clarity, and consistency of the type which would have assisted countries to set priorities in their responses,” the authors wrote, adding that they’ll continue to scrutinize the “coherence and prioritization of recommendations, and evidence concerning their actual patterns of use.”
Now, the panel plans to take a close look at “the methods and tools employed by surveillance and alarm systems” around the world and assess how effective those systems are. They committed to issuing a report in May of this year that could help bring about a “global reset,” and lay the groundwork for a more efficacious response than the one which unfolded in 2020.
Another report claims Chinese officials in Wuhan failed to direct a swift, cohesive response to the virus
The panel’s conclusions came out on the same day that the Al Jazeera news agency published previously-unseen videos of the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The footage, shot clandestinely by two reporters and smuggled outside of China, is said to show how fear and confusion first spread in Wuhan, the hard-hit Chinese capital of Hubei province.
The videos, which Al Jazeera says were shot between January 19 and January 22, 2020, demonstrate the initial lack of urgency with which leaders in Wuhan met the novel coronavirus. Later footage captures the devolution into a much graver state that engulfed the city, which was eventually locked down. One of the reporters who is said to have filmed the footage wrote in his diary that “the lack of staff and equipment in Wuhan caused many infected patients to be denied treatment.”
In spite of China’s early difficulties combating the virus, strict public health measures have helped the country keep its newly-diagnosed daily cases low. Last week, however, the Associated Press reported that China was erecting a new 3,000-unit quarantine facility in the capital of the northern Hebei province, as a response to gradually rising case counts.
The World Health Organization’s chief scientist said there is not currently evidence that coronavirus vaccines prevent people from transmitting the virus to other people.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told a Monday briefing there was not yet enough evidence from vaccine trials “to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on.”
She added that people should still quarantine when travelling to countries with lower coronavirus transmission rates, even if they had received the vaccine.
Vaccine researchers in the US are currently trying to determine whether vaccines can stop the virus spreading from person to person, or if they only prevent individuals from becoming ill with COVID-19.
The answer is significant because it would determine whether asymptomatic people would continue infecting others.
The World Health Organization has warned that people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus will still need to quarantine when they travel because there is not enough evidence that vaccines prevent people from transmitting the virus.
The WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said on Monday that the agency had not established whether COVID-19 vaccines – which are already being administered across the US and in Europe – prevent people from getting the virus and passing it to others.
“At the moment I don’t believe we have the evidence of any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on,” Swaminathan told a virtual briefing, in comments reported by Axios.
Swaminathan was responding to a question about whether vaccinated people should still be required to quarantine when travelling to countries with lower transmission rates.
“I think until we know more, we need to assume that people who have been vaccinated also need to take the same precautions until there is a certain level of herd immunity that’s been built in the population,” she said.
Business Insider reported last month that vaccine researchers in the US hope to determine whether vaccines can stop the virus spreading from person to person, or whether they simply prevent individuals from getting sick.
The answer would likely have a huge impact on the course of the pandemic because if vaccines prevented transmission, it would reduce the risk of asymptomatic carriers of the virus passing it onto others.
Dr. Larry Corey, the virologist who is drawing up the research proposal, said that the trial still needed funding as well as cooperation from the pharmaceutical companies which have developed effective vaccines.
Two of those, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, are already being administered in the US and in Europe. Meanwhile, the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is likely to receive approval in the UK within days, according to the Financial Times.
Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said last month he believes it is likely that the vaccine will prevent transmission, but warned that there was not yet “sufficient evidence” that was the case.
“When we start the deployment of this vaccine we will not have sufficient concrete data to prove that this vaccine reduces transmission,” he told “Axios on HBO.”
“I think it’s important that we don’t change behavior solely on the basis of vaccination.”